The hearts of Loyola basketball players raced as they sprinted toward the fan section at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

They roared toward the rafters in exhilaration and collided into each other with aggressive bear hugs, playfully punching each other in celebration as college students in their 20s are apt to do.

They had just made it official that they were headed to the Final Four – one of the biggest moments of their young lives. years. It was Saturday night. It was time to party.

But then each player spotted 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt smiling and soaking in the scene as a sea of maroon-and-gold confetti clustered around her wheelchair. They paused.

Raucous revelry shifted to sweet happiness as players gently approached their team chaplain. Muscular, sweaty, towering men bent down and gave the 5-foot-nun delicate hugs, some resting their heads on her shoulder for a moment or lightly patting her back.

They gently took her small wrinkled hands in their own strong young hands. They reminded Sister Jean how glad they were she could share it with them.

“She’s just a wonderful person,” junior guard Marques Townes said, beaming at the thought of her. “Just to have her around and her presence and her aura, when you see her, it’s just like the world is just great because her spirit and her faith in us and Loyola basketball.”

The nation has been captivated by Sister Jean.

But while she has become an “international celebrity” with a best-selling bobblehead, let’s not forget why her relationship with Loyola’s players’ is so heartwarming. Let it inspire us.

Because for the most part, America ignores its elderly.

We don’t make time for them, listen to them or value their experiences and opinions.

Seventeen percent of the 65-and-older population lives in social isolation, which poses health risks. Fifty-one percent of people at least 75 years old live alone. Income inequality among America’s elderly is among the starkest of developed nations.

So if you’re giddy about Sister Jean at the tournament, take time to check on an elderly neighbor on your block. Bring them their mail, rake their leaves, just stop by for a chat.

When you buy a T-shirt or socks with her image, donate to Sister Jean’s religious community Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The next time you post a meme of Sister Jean on social media, think about volunteering at a local nursing home where many elderly are lonely. Send a tweet about Sister Jean? How about also make a call to your grandparents?

“I’m so happy for Loyola, for my congregation, for the city of Chicago and for the nation,” Sister Jean said in a television interview. “We need something to boost us and I think this is what is doing it.”

She’s an inspiring story, for sure.

Yet some TV sports analysts sometimes refer to Sister Jean as a “mascot” or a “No. 1 fan.” And while nobody roots harder for the Ramblers, she’s much more than a cute stereotype of a nun.

Sister Jean, a lifelong sports fan, former coach and Loyola’s basketball chaplain since 1994, has prayed with the team before games for years — there were just never television cameras hovering above like now.

She is tough and determined. Despite her age and recovering from a broken hip, she’s traveled from St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to Dallas for the opening NCAA tournament rounds to Atlanta for the Sweet 16.

Now she’s heading to San Antonio.

She’s delivered sharp witty replies in interviews from CNN to “Good Morning America” and has taken so many fan selfies she may have earned honorary millennial status. (If selfie poses didn’t, her backward Final Four cap did. “I just know that’s how they wear it,” she said. How hip is she?)

Sister Jean’s religious community is devoted to “freedom, education, charity and justice.” Her commitment to Loyola and its basketball team exemplifies the BVM mission: “We pray that God will continue to give us the faith and courage to engage wholeheartedly in the ministries to which we are called and to accept with joy, flexibility, understanding and a spirit of sacrifice.”

All nuns, like Sister Jean, take a vow of poverty. Students stop by her office in the student center for spiritual guidance. She lives in a freshman dormitory where her hall-mates pop in to talk about homesickness and deeper struggles.

“She has meant so much to me personally and obviously the team,” senior Donte Ingram said. “At the end of the email (she sends after every game), it’ll be individualized, ‘Hey, Donte. You rebounded well tonight. Even though they were out there to get you, you still came through for the team.’ She’s just so special, her spirit. She’s just so bright.”

Sister Jean said part of her job with players is “to be their friend.”

Loyola’s players are a heartwarming example of how we all should treat our oldest friends.

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